Becoming “In Cahoots with Canines”

♥ For nearly 14 years, In Cahoots with Canines has been taking care of people’s beloved pets as if they were our own.
Here’s how it all began. ♥
 My dog, Indiana Jones DeGrassi (2002)

July 4, 2019

by Trey DeGrassi

Not long after Kirk and I met in March 2006, we stumbled into dog-sitting as a profession. 

My dog Indy, an unusual mix of German Shepard and Norwegian Elkhound, had passed away from cancer only a year earlier after being my traveling companion for more than 16 years. It was the first time in my adult life, I was living without a dog. The challenges of living in the Bay Area with limited space and no yard, not to mention a total lack of empathy from prospective landlords regarding a canine roommate, prevented me from adopting again. Fortunately, that problem was short-lived because, within a few weeks, two new dogs would enter our lives, and things changed forever.

Rolling Ball of Trash
Giant Rolling Ball of Trash at Bay to Breakers

It was the third weekend of May and the Bay Area’s Annual “Fun Run,” called Bay to Breakers, was happening that Sunday morning. It’s an official 12K course and people come all the way from Madagascar, Kenya, and Nairobi to run the course, but way more people walk the course than run it. Instead, most everyone either dresses up in ridiculous, outrageous costumes, or they wear nothing at all. Buck naked. It’s a huge party moving throughout the City down two of its main thoroughfares at approximately three miles per hour.

Yes that IS a giant, rolling ball of trash.

Thousands of people just amble from the Bay at the Embarcadero, then down Market Street following behind the seeded runners, who by this time are already well into Golden Gate Park and near the finish line at the Pacific Ocean; The winner was Gilbert Okari from Kenya, who completed the 12K in 34 minutes and 20 seconds.

So Kirk and I were out on this beautiful Sunday morning enjoying the fantastic weather and the crowds. Like most everyone else, we were there to gawk and grab a little eye candy; let the big party just walk by us. The costumes and hordes of drunk people who dress up, and who weave the entire length make even the most outrageous of Halloweens look like a K-mart fashion show.

By 11 am, the crowd of runners had begun to wane because the race starts at 8:00 am so most people—even the walkers—had managed to make it out of the Financial District and into Hayes Valley—the steepest part of the entire race course. If you can’t make it up the Hayes Street hill to Alamo Square, you are doomed to fail.

Alamo Square after sunset with San Francisco skyline in the background.
Alamo Square and the Painted Ladies with the San Francisco Skyline

As we wandered further from our apartment, we crossed the street—wading through dozens, if not hundreds of people in crazy outfits—and were heading up the hill toward Alamo Square. You may not know what Alamo Square is, but you do…it is the location of the iconic Painted Ladies Victorians on Steiner Street, once made a little more famous by the television show Full House.

But, we never made it up the hill because we were approached by this giant 145-pound ghost-like white Mastiff/Lab as we neared his house. He took an instant liking to us, came out to the curb on the street, and seemed to welcome us to his place. We introduced ourselves to Geoff and Vanessa, and then we stuck around for a while. Beau took an especially strong liking to Kirk—just as I had two months earlier when we met in front of Starbucks, but that’s another blog post. We stayed around and talked to them for about an hour more before heading home.

Beau First Smile
Kirk rubbing Beau’s neck about 3 minutes after Beau asked us over.

During our conversation with Beau’s “parents,” Vanessa told us how sick Beau would get when he would be taken to the kennel every six months when the family went out of the country on vacation for two weeks. He would get very depressed and mope around at the kennel—hardly eating anything at all. The last time they left him there, he ate nothing for two weeks, lost 25 pounds, and was terribly depressed for nearly a month.

Vanessa was very concerned and thought that this might prevent them from going to see Geoff’s parents in Nova Scotia again for fear that Beau would starve himself to death.

Out of the blue, Kirk wisely suggested that they consider getting someone to sit with him at home instead of putting him in the kennel.

The conversation ended there and we never really gave it another thought. A few months later, we got a surprise phone call from Vanessa. She and Geoff had decided that they wanted Beau to stay at home where he is happy and that they wanted Kirk and me to come to stay at their house for the entire two weeks they would be on vacation. We happily agreed and the rest is history.

It was our first Thanksgiving with Beau, and we had a lovely home-cooked turkey Vanessa had bought for us from Williams Sonoma. We literally had a Norman Rockwell type affair.

Beau waiting patiently for his din-din Arrooooooo
 Our own version of a Norman Rockwell painting (2006)

Ultimately we stayed with Beau a number of times over the next five years and it was always the most amazing time ever—their beautiful Victorian and this tender, loving gentle giant of a dog. Those were some awfully good times.

In August of 2011, we had not seen Beau for a while, and we happened to run into him with Vanessa on the corner of Hayes and Laguna—just a few houses from where they lived. Beau had been limping slightly for some time now, and no one was sure why. Turns out the vet had diagnosed some kind of skin cancer that attacks between the folded skin of the toes, causing laceration and painful tumors. And because Beau was so big, every step he took was putting him in agony. Plus, the cancer had spread to his liver, and there was nothing else they could do except to make him comfortable until they had to do that unthinkable thing that no dog lover wants to even contemplate.

Less than a month after our chance encounter that day—on September 12—Vanessa called me to tell me Beau had died. He was one of the three dogs who had actually been at our wedding reception in 2008, and he was gone. That huge dog was gone.

Never again would I watch him carry that silly red-and-black-checked soccer ball in his mouth—all the way to the park—and all the way back home without it ever leaving his mouth.

05. beau-ball
——> The ball. His favorite toy ever.

Once he got home from the park, he would squeeze all the air out of the ball and he would listen for the next 60 seconds as the squeaker in the ball made that shrill sound that so many dog toys make. It made all of us laugh—no howl— because he would do it the exact same way every time. Then he would enter the kitchen and look at his empty dog bowl and he would growl really loudly for about 15 seconds reminding us that we should not forget to feed him. The point of my misty-eyed, rambling story is that Beau was really the motivation to do something we both really love. He was the reason we lucked into one of the most wonderful and rewarding professions one could possibly hope for. The joy was pure, and the sentiment was so warm and inviting and lovely.

We still look at his pictures—often, and we still laugh out loud, and then we cry for the Gentle Giant of Hayes Street, Beau Campbell.


Kirk, Beau and Trey in 2006 when we first discovered our shared love of dogs.

Next week’s installment of the Dog Blog will be about a second dog that entered our lives rather unexpectedly and with a bang, but who was much less assuming—at least physically—than Beau. Be sure to check out my upcoming post about my sweet, 10-year affair with a Boston Terrier who only weighs 25 pounds, and yet who snores louder than any human being weighing ten times her size possibly could. They call her Uma.